14. Be open to reflecting, learning and changing as a teacher

Requiring students to reflect on their own learning has been suggested as beneficial for students (12.2). In the context of Indigenous teaching, many of the academics interviewed felt strongly that teachers also need to be reflexive and open to change - in their attitudes as well as in their teaching strategies - if they are to be effective.

Many of these experienced practitioners are remarkably candid about their own learning pathways and personal transformations over the years. Some have developed new skills in handling classroom differences of opinion, or in getting students more actively involved in learning experiences. Others have concluded that meeting the educational needs of Indigenous students does
not require those students to be taught 'in an Indigenous way'.

As the diverse Approaches below illustrate, these exemplary practitioners differ in their strategies and in their thinking. However, like all good teachers they are constantly reflecting on, and evaluating their own practice in order to improve it.

14.1 'You can't teach Indigenous students without knowing Indigenous history. But it's also about recognising your own values.' (Macquarie)

14.2'Students are going through the same kind of experiences I did when I first came to Australia from London - I had to learn how to comport oneself in relation to Aboriginal people. "Protocols" is the term used by Aboriginal people.' (La Trobe)

14.3 [Asked if he had changed his practice over time] 'Immensely. I used to do the standard lecture format, with a 2 hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial - the normal pattern at this university. I now favour the use of film - it introduces Aboriginal people to them more directly.' (La Trobe)

14.4 [After completing a course in university teaching] 'I moved away from challenging racist students directly, to encouraging the whole class to think differently about an issue. Students have to come to their conclusions themselves. I try to focus on the good of the whole group rather than picking on one person.' (Sydney)

14.5 'I've learnt to totally suspend judgement. I've learnt that there's always an underlying story behind why people do what they do. Everything needs to be done compassionately… But we also need to have the guts to stand up to some people. So you may have to suspend judgment - but you also have to be ready to make a judgement if needed.' (ASHE)

14.6 'I decided in 1977 to research Aboriginal history because I was teaching it… The research comes out of my teaching, very much so. I started teaching, then I thought: "I need to meet Aboriginal people", so I started researching. I began with Aboriginal boxers, and went on from there. So it was my teaching first, then research, and they've bent back on each other ever more since then.' (La Trobe)

14.7 'I'm doing it [scaffolding] because of their needs as learners, not as Indigenous learners. When I first arrived [here] I was paralysed by fear in case I made a blunder. Then I thought I could rely on my people skills. Then I went to a Diversity conference and realised that if I taught them the same as everyone else, I wasn't recognising their learning needs. But it's not about their cultural needs.
This sounds like I am not recognising them as Indigenous people who may have different needs based on culture, but I think good teachers recognise these needs and accommodate them in teaching.' (Sydney)

14.8 'My lecture notes aren't notes. They're mostly pictures. If I used notes, [some] students would just write down everything in the notes. We talk as much as possible. I show them pictures, and get them to talk about "culture", and what that means. I didn't always do this, I moved towards it.' (Melbourne)

14.9 'A lot of academics make assumptions that they have to teach Aboriginal students in a certain kind of way. Fifteen years ago, when I went to teach in the Pitjantjatjara community, I had those assumptions, until I found that it didn't work to teach that way. On the question of: "Is there an Aboriginal learning style?" - the answer was: "Highly questionable".' (Monash)

14.10 'I express to them how [moral dilemmas] confound me, I put that to them: "Why haven't we anthropologists done better with Indigenous health?" It gets the students thinking that we might not be very good at what we think we are good at.' (La Trobe)

14.11 'I started to think there were better ways to do what I do, to improve things for students… I think about: What interests people? What will inspire them to go on and learn more?' (Wollongong)

14.12 'I've looked at my own learning process with my own parents and family. I've tried to pick it apart - how my family has taught me things that are really valuable to me. It was mostly showing me things, and sharing things with me - not just telling me.
My mother is non-Indigenous and my father is Indigenous, and the synthesis of the two has helped me develop my approach to my own teaching… As I go on I look at my own teaching to see if this worked or not, and I do ongoing checks to see what's working.' (UNSW)


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